Freekicks: Curling vs Knuckle-ball

Freekicks: Curling vs Knuckle-ball

Set pieces have become such an integral part of the modern football game that we now see teams assigning set piece specialists to take these half chances to score, with designated individuals practicing hours and hours nonstop on the training pitch to perfect their corner kicks, free kicks and even penalties.

Indeed, at the last World Cup in Russia, an astonishing 42 percent of goals scored were a result of set pieces, a testament to the set piece’s ever-increasing prominence in a team’s overall attacking performance.  

Undoubtedly, the most exciting set piece to watch is the free kick, which has seen so many different techniques and routines developed throughout the years. There is the common curling free kick preferred by the likes of David Beckham and Andrea Pirlo, and the much rarer knuckle-ball free kicks that have been mastered by Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. The following is a comparison of their techniques and application. 


The key to striking a good curling free kick is to make contact with the ball on its sides (off-centre). The further away from the centre of the ball, the greater the spin and subsequent curl generated. The contact point of the ball on one’s foot should be the instep, and most players often approach their run up at degree of 45 angles to give it that extra whip around the wall. 

Dimitri Payet is a wonderful example of a top quality free-kick maestro.

For the knuckleball free kick, it relies on minimum rotational spin and instead, depends on the airflow in its flight to do the work, making the ball swerve in unpredictable ways, sometimes in both directions at once, to astound the opposing goalkeeper. The key to this is to strike the ball at its sweet spot using one’s toes, just below the middle of the ball, and to stop the follow through immediately to prevent additional spin from being applied. 

Application and tactics

There is greater tactical flexibility when it comes to curling free kicks, for they can be used as deliveries into the penalty box for a teammate to thump it in, as opposed to a direct attempt at goal. With a direct curling free kick, the target would be the extreme corners of the goals and therefore, right footed players would be more suited to attempt this on the left side of the pitch while the vice versa is true for left footed players. It is wiser to aim for the corners where the line of sight is covered by the opposing wall, as it further disadvantages the goalkeeper who cannot predict the direction of one’s curl no clear sight of one’s shot. 

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Messi scored 48 times from free kicks.

The knuckle-ball is much more straightforward, as it can only be used as a direct attempt at goal tactics wiseThere is no exceptional need for this free kick to land in the corners as the last-minute swerve of the ball can throw the best goalkeepers off as long as the ball is on target.

Therefore, free kicks along the centre of the goal would be the best points for executing the knuckle-ball free kick, with the highest probability of the ball hitting the target.  

There are vast differences in terms of technique and application of these two types of free kicks – knuckle-ball and the curler.

However, their point of convergence is the amount of time and effort required to perfect the art of either style.

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Bales technique has been criticized by Aaron Ramsey.

When Gareth Bale was quizzed about his success with his knuckle-ball free kicks, he simply credits it to honest hard work in the training ground. ‘I‘ve been practicing for ages now,’ he said. ‘I think if you keep practicing, it does come off in a match.’ No matter which style of free kick one chooses, it’s the practice that ultimately leads to its success in the game. 

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